Strengthening Street Photography Composition With Open Interpretation

leica, street photography
Taken with the Leica M262, Leica 35mm f/2 ASPH, and processed using VSCO.

What makes a good photograph great?  It’s not simply composition is it…  You can’t expect to turn a photograph of a blade of grass into an award-winning shot by simply arranging it in accordance to the rule of thirds can you?  Of course not.  And aren’t you getting tired of taking photographs of people walking past graffiti layered walls?  We are getting tired of looking at them.  So let’s talk about another, more advanced way to compose your street photography…  Open interpretation.

The easiest way to explain this is to show you…  If you look at the photograph above you’ll first notice the juxtaposition of light and dark.  The white of the crosswalk contrasts well with the shadows and the people’s clothing.  That alone doesn’t really make it a photograph worth sharing.  I could have tilted the camera up a fraction of an inch and you’d have seen what the two guys were looking at but what fun would that be?  Part of open interpretation is leaving out some key facts so the viewer can put the pieces together the way they would like.

I noticed the woman standing on the other side of the road before the two guys did and positioned myself between them to frame her body between them.  As she began to walk towards them I noticed her legs and decided to compose in a way that cut their faces out and let their body language tell the story.  That, to me, created a photograph that is open to interpretation as opposed to a photograph of two guys staring at a pretty woman crossing the street.

It’s easy to point out the composition elements that make a photograph work after the fact but it’s much more difficult to compose a photograph with multiple layers of composition before you squeeze the shutter.*  In all honesty, framing and juxtaposition were the only two composition elements I visualized before creating the photograph.  I like to challenge myself to see how many layers of composition I can incorporate into a single photograph.

*Check out my article on the Pyramid of Composition if you’d like to learn more about how to create professional images using multiple layers of composition.

What are your thoughts on using open interpretation in street photography?  Feel free to share them in the comments section below.

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